Miles Norris soars high for a dunk while en route to his team-high 14 points in UCSB's 60-48 men's basketball victory at Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday. Credit: Trevor Trimm Photo


Miles Norris leads Gauchos’ triumph with 14 points and five rebounds

BAKERSFIELD —UC Santa Barbara had to find an open road to Bakersfield on Tuesday night before it could keep its basketball road streak open on Wednesday.

Flooding from this week’s torrential storms couldn’t prevent the Gauchos from defeating Cal State Bakersfield 60-48 for their sixth-straight road win and ninth consecutive victory overall.

“Up until the time we left, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to get here,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “The 126 was closed, and so we had no idea. The (freeway) north and south was going to be closed.

“It was up for debate about whether or not they were going to cancel the game.”

The victory keeps UCSB (13-2, 4-0 Big West Conference) in a first-place tie with UC Irvine (11-5, 4-0).

The Gauchos will face two of their biggest challengers in the next few days when they return home for a 7 p.m. game on Saturday against UC Riverside (11-6, 4-1) and then travel to Irvine on Monday for a 6 p.m. showdown.

UCSB, off to its best start since going 15-1 to begin the 1988-89 season, never trailed. Pasternack, wary of the busy schedule, was able to rest his starters near the end of the game after having built a double-digit lead.

“That was big for us, to be able to drag our guys’ minutes down tonight,” he said. “I’ve been playing them way too many minutes.”

Miles Norris, who scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed five rebounds, was the only Gaucho to log as many as 30 minutes. Point guard Ajay Mitchell, who made all four of his shots for eight points while handing out three assists, played 28 minutes.

Ajare Sanni made three straight shots including a three-pointer during the first seven minutes. Calvin Wishart and Josh Pierre-Louis added threes to increase the Gaucho lead to 21-14. Sanni finished with 10 points.

“He’s come out and played well the past two games,” Pasternack said.

Mitchell scored off back-to-back runners, and a put-back by Koat Keat Tong gave UCSB a 12-point lead at 27-15.

Tong, a freshman from South Sudan, scored a season-high eight points and added a game-high seven rebounds.

“He makes some mistakes but he’s going really hard, and playing hard, and that’s all we can ask from a freshman,” Pasternack said. “It’s not easy to master our schemes as a freshman, but I think he’s doing a really good job.”

The Roadrunners used three Gaucho turnovers to score nine unanswered points and draw within 27-24. UCSB committed eight of its 14 turnovers during the first half.

“We’re turning the ball over way too much,” Pasternack said, “but we won the rebounding war (32-26) against a great rebounding team, and we defended and held them under 40%.

“Holding a team to 48 points when you’re on the road is not easy to do. If we can just fix the turnovers, we’d be in good shape”

Mitchell stopped the bleeding with another scoring drive.

UCSB’s Ajay Mitchell drives past Cal State Bakersfield’s Modestas Kancleris in Wednesday’s 60-48 men’s basketball victory. (Trevor Trimm Photo)

Norris added four more points when he was intentionally fouled after making a steal. He made 1-of-2 free throws and then used the extra possession to hit a three, extending UCSB’s lead to 33-24.

The Gauchos made 6-of-13 threes (46.2%). They’ve shot 43.1% from three-point range in the last four games (22-for-51) after having made only 32.2% in their first 11 contests (59-for-183). Their season mark improved to 34.6%.

“I don’t know what the reason is, but last year we struggled early in shooting three, as well,” Pasternack said. “But we do have really good three-point shooters, and it’s just a matter of time.”

Pierre-Louis ignited a 13-5 run early in the second half by scoring off a steal, and then driving and passing to Norris for a three. Tong’s layup off an interior pass from Norris gave UCSB a 54-40 lead with 4:53 to go.

Bakersfield (5-11, 1-4), led by Ugnius Jarusevicius’ 15 points and five rebounds, came into the game ranked 31st in the country for field-goal percentage defense (.392). The Gauchos, who were ranked 26th in field-goal percentage offense (.485), wound up out-shooting the Roadrunners 50% to 34%

UCSB plans to hand out t-shirts to the first 1,000 university students who attend Saturday’s game against Riverside. The Gauchos also will be celebrating Santa Barbara Unified School District Night. All students of the district and their families are being offered three free tickets to the game, which can be accessed by scanning the QR code in the advertisement below.